Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reporting for All: Challenges for the media in Nepal's Democratic Transition

The 16-page report entitled "Reporting for All: Challenges for the media in Nepal's Democratic Transition" presents the findings of a multi-approach study on Nepal's media in the last few years of post-conflict situation. The document produced by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in collaboration with the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) says journalists and media organizations continue to face challenges. The following is the background of the report, followed by a link to the original document:

After 10 years of civil conflict, the peace agreed with the Maoist insurgency movement in 2006 was followed by the institution in 2008 of a Constituent Assembly (CA) to oversee Nepal's political transition. The ceasefire of 2006 and the aftermath of the 2008 elections, were seen by the country's journalists as an opportune moment to put in place a legal framework equipped to promote the healthy growth of the media, on firm foundations of the public interest and the right to free speech. Nepal's journalists and their organisations played a central role in resisting the repression that was unleashed during the years of royal absolutism and turning back the tide, creating a popular movement for the restoration of democracy. Since the ceasefire, the journalists' community has secured legally protected rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association. Journalists moreover, were key participants in lobbying for and successfully securing the passage of a right to information law.

There have been worries since, that the momentum for positive change is being lost. Nepal's journalists and their organisations have in the circumstances, been consolidating their unity and solidarity as a means of defending a free media and seeking to develop and entrench a media culture that serves peace, reconciliation and the public good. However, journalists in Nepal still face enormous challenges, not the least of them being security. Though formally ended, the Maoist insurgency has, in certain perceptions, implanted a cult of violence and spawned numerous emulative militant groups, which are smaller, uncoordinated and hence more dangerous. State nstitutions and authorities have at the same time shown a limited ability to protect lives and assure people of a secure environment. Maoist elements that are keen to enter the political mainstream and participate constructively in democratic politics feel betrayed that there is no sense of accountability for the years of royal absolutism and its structural and often hidden violence against the poor and the underprivileged.

This failure is seen in some circles to feed into a renewed cycle of violence. Since the 2006 peace agreement, a pattern of violence is evident in relation to the grievances of minority and marginalised groups, notably in the southern plains bordering India, or the Terai. A failure to implement many of the peace accord provisions and to respond adequately to minority group grievances is undermining the peace process. The situation is made more volatile by serious economic difficulties, exacerbated by natural disasters in 2008. Fresh political turbulence arose in May 2009 with a long simmering dispute between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahaland the Chief of Staff of the Nepali Army (NA), General Rukmangad Katawal becoming public. Prime Minister Dahal, known alternately by the nom de guerre of Prachanda from his days as leader of the Maoist insurgents, was seeking to make the transition to a civilian persona after emerging unexpected winner in the April 2008 national elections. But in evident frustration at the complexity of the transition, he resigned soon afterwards, with important partners in the coalition he had put together openly opposing his effort to dismiss the army chief. Another coalition arrangement came into being, headed by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal from the third largest party in the national parliament - the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), known most often as the UML or as the Ma-Lay in local parlance. But this arrangement looked tenuous from the outset, and the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Nepal in June 2010, following a nationwide general strike orchestrated by the Maoists in May, has resulted in a prolonged political stalemate, with the national parliament failing in several sittings afterwards, to agree on any form of successor government.

Attacks and threats against journalists reportedly decreased amid initial peace-making efforts, but violence targeting the media has been on the rise again amid new tensions and insecurities. Journalists continue to confront intimidation and psychological pressures. Editors are pressured through discriminatory allocation of advertising revenues. And journalists face the constant threat of dismissal for their work, The FNJwith media proprietors being altogether too susceptible to political demands.

Anger in the southern plains (or Terai), the western regions and elsewhere is increasingly directed against journalists and media outlets for their coverage (or lack of coverage) of events and issues related to the political transition and minority interests. In 2008, newspapers in some districts were forced to close temporarily as a result of violence arising from frustration among some groups about information transmitted via news reports. It seemed that the veracity of the information was not the issue so much as what the news broadcasts said about political power and identity interests. Much of the anger and mistrust that targets the media is misdirected and misinformed. However it is also the case that a good deal of media output is aligned with political interests and does not pay due heed to the needs, views and sensitivities of all groups in Nepali society. In the lead-up to the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008, certain media outlets in Nepal, were found to be engaged in partisanship and the denial of opposing voices. In extreme cases, some were found to be actively engaged in disseminating false information about political opponents.1

Senior journalists and journalists' organisations are worried that personnel in the many media establishments that have sprung up across the country lack sufficient awareness of and training in the principles of responsible journalism and the positive role of an independent media in a peaceful and democratic society. They worry that a failure by poorly trained media workers and others to understand and recognise the human rights of minorities can become a base for serving special interests, leading to renewed conflict. Integral to this concern is the limited availability of highquality professional training focused on the principles of ethical and inclusive journalism.2These concerns are framed by the rapid expansion of Nepal's media sector in recent years, notably the increase in FM radio stations from under 50 in 2004 to over 300 in 2007. As well, the number of licensed television stations rose to nine in 2007 from four in 2004, while about 2,600 registered daily, weekly and fortnightly newspapers were operating in 2007.3

Click here to read the full text of the report.